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As Greek Bloggers Assail Government, Their Names Are Wanted

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By Andy Dabilis

Blogger Theodora Oikonomides says she is not sure if there is a connection between her blog, The Irate Greek, that blisters the government, and her computer acting up, or if the police that have suddenly shown up on the corner of her street are just patrolling.

“I don’t think I’m being hacked yet,” she told SETimes. Until she decided to go public a few months ago, Oikonomides was one of a growing legion of anonymous Greek bloggers blasting the government daily over the economic crisis, austerity measures, and what they believed was police brutality against protesters.

It got so constant that in August, Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou said that Greece would stiffen its internet and media laws, and draft a new law making it easier to identify anonymous bloggers, who he said were inflaming people to violent acts against politicians, now vilified to the point of fearing attack.

“There will be no more hooded people on the internet,” said Papaioannou. “In the hands of a few, the internet has become a mud-slinging tool threatening the lives of fellow citizens,” he added. There are an estimated 55,000 bloggers in Greece who could turn to other outlets, including online platforms such as Facebook, message boards, Twitter, or other forums where identities are kept hidden.

Papaioannou formed a committee to determine whether slandering citizens can be forced to have their identities released through Internet Service Providers and Google. He asked the media to voluntarily discuss giving up regulation rights, but has drawn fire from one of the committee members, journalist Paschos Mandravelis of the daily Kathimerini, who wrote, “Any attempt to identify bloggers or to censor even the worst kind of blogs … is bound to fail … the globalisation of the net, creates the greatest denominator of freedom.”

The idea came a few months after two men were arrested in Thessaloniki for putting up posters declaring then-Prime Minister George Papandreou a “Wanted Man”, for imposing pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions on Greeks in return for a first bailout of 109 billion euros to keep the country from going bankrupt.

Last month, police detained several people for putting up anti-government banners at a football game. Greece also requires people buying mobile phone chips to show their identity cards, in what authorities also said was an attempt to prevent anonymous phones from being used to plan or commit crimes.

Oikonomides said these are government attempts to regulate its citizens, not their devices. “It’s not a dictatorship because that means institutions would be abolished, but there is a drift here toward authoritarianism … They want to intimidate people,” she said.

Maria Adamopoulou, a lawyer working with a government committee, told SETimes that “It was never the intention of the minister or anyone on the committee to ban freedom of speech or abolish the anonymity of the blogger,” but to have a vehicle to act against slander and crimes committed through or with the aid of the internet.

“[There is] a catalogue of crimes for which the ISP could provide traces, the name of a person who has created defamation. You can call people names and whatever, and hide behind the anonymity, and that’s why we want to regulate,” she added.

After Papaioannou took aim at bloggers, Oikonomides taunted him. “You are not spending enough time online. If you did, you would know that most internet traffic, in Greece and elsewhere, is about all sorts of futile things: cookery, gardening, pets, boyfriends, girlfriends, horoscopes, etc. Very little indeed is about politics, and even less about calls for political violence,” she wrote.

A veteran worker for international refugee efforts who worked in places like Sudan, the Palestinian Territories, and soon Somalia, she said after those danger spots she will not be intimidated by Greek officials. “This is Greece, not China or Syria — yet.”

She uses her blog to doggedly research topics such as the luxury pay and benefit levels of parliament members who ratified big pay cuts and tax hikes on workers, pensioners and the poor, infuriating politicians, and adds that she will not stop.

Katitza Rodriguez, international rights director for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which aims to protect digital rights of internet users, told SETimes that “Government should protect bloggers’ privacy rights and their right to express opinions anonymously. Anonymous and pseudonymous expression allows individuals to express unpopular opinions, honest observations, and otherwise unheard complaints.”

Rodriguez said there are other reasons some people need to keep their identities secret, such as corporate whistleblowers, fearful of being fired.

“They can report news that companies would prefer to suppress,” a private parallel to what Oikonomides said anonymous Greek bloggers are trying to do against a government they oppose. Adamopoulou said Greece is in line with the EU law. “We want to prevent anyone who is covered under anonymity from making defamatory comments without consequences,” although who would declare what is defamatory is unclear.

Counters Rodriguez: “The disclosure of anonymous speaker shouldn’t be made just because the government wants it.”

SETimes

SETimes

The Southeast European Times Web site is a central source of news and information about Southeastern Europe in ten languages: Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, English, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbian and Turkish. The Southeast European Times is sponsored by the US European Command, the joint military command responsible for US operations in 52 countries. EUCOM is committed to promoting stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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